Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Preliminary Thoughts on D&D Tarot Magic

Now, don't get me wrong: I don't believe in Tarot as a fortune telling device. But the concept is great, and I think in some respects it would be nice if it was actually useful. There is something spellbinding about the Major Arcana - the way they look in most decks, their powerful symbolism, their iconic feel. We don't live in a world in which they can actually tell us anything, but a world in which they did would be extremely interesting.

In There is Therefore a Strange Land Tarot (like God, Satan, etc.) is real and can be used by all characters. There is also a unique Tarot Reader class. I've even drawn up a table of key words:

The Fool
The Magician
Precision or concentration
The High Priestess
Intuition, wisdom
The Empress
Mothering, sexuality, nature
The Emperor
Fathering, authority, power
The Lovers
Love, passion, bonding
The Chariot
Conquest, honour, impulsivity
Impartiality, clear vision, logic
The Hermit
Silence, guidance, understanding
Wheel of Fortune
Opportunities, possibilities, fate
Self-control, solidity, perseverance
The Hanged Man
Sacrifice, surrender, acceptance
Loss, transition, inescapability
Harmony, moderation, healing
The Devil
Materialism, anger, hedonism
The Tower
Chaos, disillusion, sudden change
The Star
Calmness, trust, joy
The Moon
Lack of clarity, deception, anxiety
The Sun
Enlightenment, splendour, personal power
Rebirth, reconciliation, decision
The World
Accomplishment, prosperity, wholeness

The basic idea is as follows: once in a given period of time (a month, say), a PC can go to an NPC fortune teller and have a single fortune told - which means they are assigned one Major Arcana.

A PC of the Tarot Reader class can also read their own Tarot, which means taking a number of cards based on their level and combining them. So, for instance, a 5th level Tarot Reader might be able to take 3 draws. He or she can then combine the 3 cards, or use them individually.

The way this happens is that, when the PC encounters what he or she considers an applicable situation, he or she gets a premonition or feeling that bestows an advantage. So if he drew the fortune of The Chariot, he could use it when trying to browbeat a thug or whatever because it is associated with conquest, and automatically succeed: it was written in the stars that the thug would be intimidated. Or if he has The Moon, he can use it to automatically succeed when trying to tell a lie: fate had already determined this.

I think the critical thing is making sure this doesn't become too story-gamish or too overpowered. I'm not sure I like the idea of somebody being captured by bandits and just using The Tower to dictate that the camp gets thrown into chaos by a distraction, or using The Hanged Man to generate the outcome "the dragon surrenders" as soon as it's encountered. It feels a little bit too much like narrative control. Not that there's anything wrong with that necessarily, but I like D&D effects to be a bit more concrete and measurable - bonuses, saving throws, etc. And yet at the same time just providing bonuses to dice rolls strikes me as a bit banal.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Random Coin Hoard Generator

The task I am currently working on for There is Therefore a Strange Land is treasure tables. This is the table for generating coin hoards; like everything in TIT-ASL (is that a great acronym, or what?), it's designed to create treasure which is going to be, in itself, interesting to sell and find a buyer for. You obviously don't need to roll in the 'special' column every time; I will probably expand on the number of possibilities in that column in any event.

Value of Individual Coins
Number of Coins
Very low (1s) (Copper, brass, bronze)
Circle (small)
Male head
Cursed: anyone removing the coins suffers from effects of a curse spell
Low (1d6s) (Debased silver, gold)
Circle (medium)
Female head
Haunted: anyone removing the coins is plagued by a spirit who (1) makes constant low-level noise; (2) jinxes all rolls (-2 modifier); (3) blabs secrets at inopportune times
Circle (large)
Human figure
Rusted or defaced: half value
Of special interest to collectors: double value
Medium (2d6s) (Silver)
Of great interest to collectors: triple value
Fake: of nominal value only
Imbued with dead souls: these whisper of their misfortune during the night
High (1l) (Gold, electrum)
Geometric Shape
Extremely hot to the touch: cannot be lifted by bare hands
Blessed: using the coins for an investment makes it a guaranteed success
Very high (1d6l) (Platinum, ivory, etc.)
Disintegrate into dust when taken through the portal from their Strange Land

Treasure values are based on guineas/shillings/pence or l/s/d, with shillings being equivalent to a LotFP silver piece or D&D gold piece. There are 21 shillings in a guinea, and 12 pence in a shilling. 

Monday, 20 April 2015

Space Bastards: Amorality and Consequences, or Why You Need a Campaign

I played a one-shot of an Into the Odd variant my good friend and fellow podcast is creating, called Into the Oort, yesterday. It was a lot of fun and worked very well. It did remind me, however, that while one shots can be enjoyable, it is very hard to imbue them with any meaning. In short, PCs in a one shot have free reign to be absolute, utter sociopaths, because long-term consequences for their actions do not really exist. And while this is fun, there is something superficial about it: one shots are a recipe for, basically, being evil. Or, in this case, Space Bastards.

Into the Oort is a quasi-hard SF setting: the Oort Cloud has been colonised by human beings who have lost contact with the rest of the Solar System, and you travel around it trading, adventuring, and getting into general Traveller-style derring-do. I was Gamble Pohl, pig-faced captain of The Statistical Violation; the other player was Verbal Creed, my "Number One". Together we did lots of bad things. From the Referee's AP:

Gamble Pohl and Verbal Creed are adventurers in the Oort Cloud, with Gamble being the de facto captain of a decommissioned warship called the Statistical Violation, a spaceship with a skeleton crew but two profitable cargoes. 
They set off to deliver the first cargo, a shipment of guns to an isolationist community. The ship is stopped and boarded on the way by a border patrol from an asteroid, but our "heroes" turn the tables on the border patrol, and a few days later leave them adrift in a shuttlecraft a long way from home or rescue. Delivering the guns to the isolationists, they set off on a long journey to deliver their remaining cargo - four bodies in suspension pods that are being sold to an organ-harvester.
En route they detect several ships landed or crashed on a small asteroid, and a scan reveals some kind of base under the surface. After a small amount of exploration and antique-finding, they destroy some automated guard drones and confuse a weird skeleton-in-a-mechsuit. Following a blood trail they find a party of frightened explorers who have barricaded themselves in to a storage room. They reassure them that they will help...
...then go to the surface of the asteroid and proceed to steal their ships. 
Now in charge of a fleet of three ships, the new Admiral Gamble Pohl and Captain Verbal Creed proceed to the organ-harvester, selling the four bodies they originally had, and another twenty-four colonists that were in suspension on one of the other ships. 
Organ-harvester: "These are children and families."Gamble Pohl: "We're willing to consider a bulk rate." 
Having secured a hefty payment for the totally innocent and unsuspecting colonists' organs, they set off to look for somewhere to upgrade their spaceship... 
Technically they didn't kill anyone in the several in-game months that passed, but I can't help but feel that they earned the nickname that one of them started using: Space Bastards.

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not doing any hand-wringing about Bad Things Happening in Games here. It's more that, in a one-shot, there's no particular reason to worry about negative consequences, and hence things end up feeling, ultimately, shorn of impact. The people on the asteroid and the 24 colonists in suspended animation were even less real than ordinary NPCs, because they only existed for the single session in which we were playing. They didn't have any friends or relatives to mourn them or come after us for revenge, and there wasn't any authority which could arrest and punish us for dicking them over, because the timeline was finite and nothing would exist the next day. So everything became ephemeral, and it is very easy to act in an amoral way when things are ephemeral: people who aren't going to exist in a few hours time don't really feel like people; bad things done in a reality which will disappear by the next day don't really feel like bad things; crimes committed without threat of retaliation or punishment don't feel like crimes. We, as players, were free to satisfy our ids without conscience or fear.

I liked the session a lot, and we had a very good time, but one-shots are simply no replacement for a proper long-term campaign of indefinite length.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Extra-Planar Activities: Why Another Multiverse Game?

There is Therefore a Strange Land is a multiverse game. Yes, that's right. Multiverses. It's not your father's multiverse, by any means (I'll post a proper 'manifesto' at some point soon) but it is about PCs adventuring in, er, Strange Lands. To what end?

Well, the main reason is because the Muse took me. And when the Muse takes me, I go with her. (My Muse looks like Kelly Brook; I don't know about yours.) But there are other reasons.

First, I love Planescape, but - to return to a Monsters & Manuals favourite from yesteryear - it does have the tendency towards banalifying the fantastical. It does a wonderful job of making you want to run games in its vision of the planes (there has never been more packed into an official D&D setting, by a long, long distance), but it also reduces them, in a sense, to just another fantasy world. It tames a lot of the mystery. I think this in part because of a strategic error: making planar PCs an option, and making Sigil with its factions the centre of everything. It instantly deprives the planes of a sense of wonder if you domesticate the whole affair by making it something the PCs are familiar with and engaged in from the outset; The Hobbit may have been perfectly good if Thorin and Gandalf had been the main characters, but it wouldn't be the anything like the feeling of adventure you get with the perspective being Bilbo's.

Second, other attempts at interdimensional or cross-dimensional games tend to leave me cold through being obsessed with themes. The most recent example of this sort of setting is that found in The Strange. I've absolutely nothing against it, but it simply doesn't engage me in the slightest. These things are a matter of taste, of course, but everything I've read about it makes it sound like "Sliders: The RPG", and I don't want to play "Sliders: The RPG". I don't want a multiverse setting to be "Let's go to Wild West Land this week. Next time it's Bizarro World, and after that Everything Is Dinosaurs". It's all a bit too much like The Magic Faraway Tree for my liking.

So I feel like it's about time multiverses got the noisms treatment; if only to try to prove that nobody has even tapped that well properly yet. And if you don't like it, you can break it to Kelly.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Dice of a Summer: A Conservative Defence of Older D&D

Conservatism is at an extremely low ebb in Britain, as in most Western societies since the rise of Thatcher. Those who call themselves conservatives are just as, if not more, likely than progressives to look at the way things are and announce themselves as being clever enough to change it. All modern politicians are architects of a society they want to bring into being. No politician nowadays ever takes the genuine conservative position: "Maybe we should just leave things be."

And British society in general is the same way: if you say that you believe that old things deserve respect simply because they are old, people look at you like you need your head examined. Our society values progress and progress means constantly demanding that every action, policy or behaviour justifies itself against the aims that we want to achieve. If traditions or customs can't do this, then they are superstitious nonsense or quaint and foolish ideas which will be consigned to the dustbin of history. We care about data, facts, statistics, efficiency; hence the complete, dominating ubiquity of the phrase which rules all political, economic and sociological debate in the land: "The evidence shows....", and its red-headed step-brother, "Studies show...." To the modern mind, there is no greater anathema than valuing traditions for their own sake. Prove that something is worth doing through robust empirical research or a monograph with plenty of footnotes. Otherwise, fuhgeddaboudit. Weber's entzauberung is at its apex.

This means that a liking for tradition is seen as eccentric at best and pernicious at worst. And people who like traditional things feel as though they have to give other reasons than just, "I'm a traditionalist." They get defensive and a little embarrassed, and find themselves coming up with rational-sounding explanations. The best example for this I can think of is the arguments from people who think Latin should still be taught in schools. (I couldn't give a monkey's either way, for what it's worth.) Deep down inside, those people like the tradition of learning Latin and value it for its own sake. But, aware that they live in the era of entzauberung, they feel compelled to come up with justifications: "It provides a grounding in modern Romance languages!" "It helps with legal phrases!" "It's good training for the mind to learn the complexities of conjugating Latin verbs, and that can only be helpful when pupils study STEM subjects!" The teaching of history in schools is defended on the same grounds: it's all about learning the lessons of the past. There has to be an instrumentalist goal. Viewing the past as worthy of study in its own right, because it is to be respected as where we come from, would not hold sway.

Those of us who play older editions of D&D find ourselves in a similar predicament, I think. Without wanting to speak for everyone, I suspect that the reason why a lot of people reading this blog play OD&D and its variants is because they like being in touch with their pasts and having a link to the way things used to be. They may be able to come up with plenty of rational arguments as to why B/X D&D is better than 4e, or whatever, and those arguments may be convincing, but I'm not sure whether, at root, that's just because of the pervasive entzauberung that surrounds us. Isn't the real reason we like TSR-era editions of the game just that they've been around for a long time and provide us with links to our childhood and to people who were playing RPGs in the past? Don't we feel an emotional connection to older variants of D&D just because they're venerable?

Edmund Burke was probably the last philosopher who is viewed with any credence who put forward a strong argument in favour of tradition. (The only others I can think of are MacIntyre and Oakeshott, both of whom I like, but who I don't think were arguing quite the same thing as Burke.) His view was, really, that the only thing that separates human beings from, as he put it, "the flies of a summer", was that humans can inherit and bequeath things. Flies' lives are self-contained: they are born, they live, they breed, they die. Their children do the same thing. Over and over again. None of it is ultimately of any consequence and nothing any one fly does will affect anything to come, except in the sense that the next generation of flies is produced. And human beings, and the human species, would be subject to the same fate - are in fact subject to the same fate - except for the existence of culture and tradition.

Our culture and our traditions both come before us and outlast us. When we are born, we are born into a pre-existing world of cultural artefacts which were there, slowly developing, for aeons before us. During our lives we participate in some small sense in their propagation and their evolution. And after we die, they continue onwards. We are born into and perpetuate a human-created world composed of a vast and complex social order that is the cumulative creation of generation upon generation of our ancestors stretching back to prehistory. The great difference between humans and flies is that we can participate in projects that are bigger than us, longer than us, better than us. The project of British society was there before I was born and will be around for longer than I am alive, but for my three-score and ten I will contribute to it.

Burke's argument was therefore simply this: culture and tradition are not unchanging, and should not be viewed as set in stone, but at the very least have to be viewed with profound respect - for they are what makes us human. They bring us out of the biological, metabolic sphere of the fly (birth, life, breeding, death: rinse and repeat from now until the end of time) and into something greater - the human world, with its unique capacity to create things which transcend the individual. That means that tradition - the way things have always been done - is something that takes on great significance, even if ultimately it is abandoned.

While playing D&D is a very small and very ridiculous part of our human, cultural world, it is still a part of it. So why shouldn't one say openly, "I play Basic D&D because people were playing it before I was born, and I want to be in touch with what it is to be human, rather than being a fly!"? Say it once and you'll sound like a nutjob. Say it a few times and it'll grow on you. I dare you.

Friday, 10 April 2015

In Praise of Hobbies

Gaming is, first and foremost, a hobby. That's important. Or, rather, hobbies are important. I'm a great believer in hobbies, whether it's train spotting, mountain climbing, surfing, boxing, painting toy soldiers or renovating vintage cars.

Hobbies have three main functions. First, they allow you to express yourself, usually in a creative and/or physical way. They aren't passive: you aren't just digesting. You're using your passion, your talents, your innate drive and determination to either put something into the world, or improve on yourself. TV rots the mind, robbing us of hour after hour, year after year of human potential, because all it involves is sitting and absorbing. Hobbies are the cure. Hobbies are your opportunity to do. Hobbies are your chance to act, create, achieve, and then sit back afterwards and say to yourself "Yes, I am pleased with what I did." Not, "Yes, I just spent two hours on the sofa eating Doritos watching other people make pretend. What a thing it is to be alive."

Second, hobbies are an opportunity to meet people you would never normally meet through work or social circles. Thanks to gaming, sports, and other activities, I've met some amazing people. I've also met some fucking weirdos. But I've met them, and meeting other people is an enriching thing, especially when they're from different age groups, social classes and backgrounds. One thing that worries me about British society - although I'm sure it's true of other developed countries in general - is not so much atomisation as stratification. Middle-class people meet other middle-class people. Working class people meet other working class people. Left wingers meet other left-wingers. Right-wingers meet other right-wingers. Academics meet other academics. Business people meet other business people. Teenagers meet other teenagers. OAPs meet other OAPs. This isn't a good thing: it diminishes our horizons horribly. Hobbies let us break out of that negative, restrictive tendency we have to congregate towards people who resemble us.

Third, hobbies are social and usually regular - or at least, have the potential to be so. And that shouldn't be underestimated in staving off things like depression, anxiety, social awkwardness, etc. This doesn't apply to me because I'm the picture of happiness and charm, obviously, but I watched my father's mental health deteriorate over the course of a decade after he retired because he didn't have regular opportunities to get out of the house and be around groups of new people. For extroverts like him, in particular, that lack of regular sustained social contact with people outside one's immediate circle can ultimately be crippling. It can turn the confident into the shy, and turn the shy into the downright agoraphobic. Humans are social animals. And in an era in which humans on the margins - the old, the mentally unwell, the lonely - are losing their opportunities to be social, hobbies have to fill the gap. At the same time, for those of us who are very sociable, it's a way to do what we enjoy, which is meet others.

What I like most about gaming is that it very easily and efficiently encompasses all of the three benefits of hobbies. It's the opportunity to create and do: to sit at a table after a long day at work and, rather than watch a bunch of actors running around Northern Ireland pretending to be in Westeros, get a pencil and paper and bring something into the world. It's an opportunity to expand your horizons and meet people you never normally would - some of whom may be crypto-fascists who smell of cat piss, or loony-lefty social justice warriors who've never met a sense of humour in their lives - but "even the dull and ignorant [have] their story". And finally it's just a chance for lonely or depressed or shy people to get out of the house and enjoy themselves and be around new people they don't see every day - or a chance for the sociable to gab and have a bit of limelight. What a brilliant thing it is.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

There is Therefore a Strange Land: Alchemist Class Beginning Thoughts and Nigrido Basic List

The Alchemist can make three basic kinds of substance: potions, which are liquids usually used as grenades or sprays, oils, for anointing objects or organic substances such as limbs, and greases, which are for smearing on things.

Unlike a spell-caster he is not limited by what he can memorise. Instead he is limited by the price of the ingredients he must put in his substances, and by what he can carry. Alchemical materials can generally only be contained in glass. And glass easily shatters.

The substances he can create are divided into four categories - the nigrido substances, which do harm to living things or the environment and are easiest to learn, albedo substances, which heal or purify, citrinitas substances, which transform and mutate, and rubedo substances, which allow the alchemist to perform demigod-like powers. These categories are accessed from level 1, level 3, level 5 and level 9 respectively.

Each of these four categories has its own basic list. This is a standard set of special things that a substance can do, gaining in power according to the level of the alchemist, and broken down into potions/oils/greases. The effects can be mixed and matched, with the caveat that mixing different effects can make substances unstable: for every additional desired effect, there is cumulative 1 in 6 chance there will have to be a roll on the undesired effect table.

It is assumed that the alchemist has access to all of the ingredients required to make the substances he or she desires, except for the special ingredient which provides the key effect.

What follows is the nigrido basic list, which is non-exhaustive at the moment. Special ingredients and their costs are indicated in brackets; the cost is sometimes given 'per level' but there is nothing stopping, for instance, a level 5 alchemist making a potion having level 1 effects at a level 1 price, and so on.

There is Therefore a Strange Land uses a silver standard, with a shilling being a silver piece. A guinea is 21 shillings, and a shilling is divided into 12 pence.

The Nigrido Basic List (Access from Level 1)

Potion Effects:

Gas (creates a cloud/fog on shattering for d3+3 rounds per level of the alchemist up to level 5) [Butter of Antimony, 2 guineas per level]
Blinding (creates a blinding explosion on shattering, blinding anything within 10' whose HD is equal to or less than the level of the alchemist) [Fulminating Gold, 3 guineas, 10 shillings per level]
Staining (stains the skin a strange colour on contact, or the entire body on drinking) [Verdigris, 1 guinea]
Caustic (burns the skin and organic objects, doing d3 DMG per level of the alchemist) [Thion Hudor, 3 guineas per level]
Befuddling (causes anyone inhaling the fumes - within 20' of shattering - to be at -1 to hit and -1 morale per level of the alchemist up to level 9) [Cobalt or Kupfer-Nickel, 3 guineas per level]
Incendiary (causes flammable objects within grenade-radius to ignite, including flesh) [Brimstone, 4 guineas]
Poison (causes instant death on drinking unless the target successfully saves against poison) [Aqua Tofani, 7 guineas]

Grease Effects:

Solvent (gradually dissolves wood, metal or stone) [Caustic Wood Alkali, 3 guineas]
Slippery (causes slips as per the 'grease' spell) [Naples Yellow, 1 guinea]
Explosive (explodes when stepped on, doing d6+3 DMG to anybody within a 5' radius and d6 DMG to anybody within a 10' radius per level of the alchemist, up to level 6) [Fulminating Silver, 6 guineas per level]

Oil Effects:

Sharpness (makes a bladed weapon do +1 DMG for d3 hours per level of the alchemist) [Sugar of Lead, 3 guineas, 10 shillings per level]
Accuracy (makes any weapon perform at +1 to hit for d3 hours per level of the alchemist) [Resin of Copper, 3 guineas, 10 shillings per level]
Slick (causes hinges, locks, etc. to be easily manipulated) [Blue Vitriol, 1 guinea]
Poison (when applied to a weapon causes instant death on a successful hit unless the target successfully saves against poison; lasts d3 hours per level of the alchemist) [Mercurous Chloride, 7 guineas per level]
Flame (ignites in flame when applied, typically to a weapon; the flame spreads to any flammable object the item touches; lasts d3 minutes per level of the alchemist) [Aes Cyprium, 2 guineas, 10 shillings per level]

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Most D&D Non-D&D Film

I re-watched The Man Who Would Be King last night. It was an odd experience - I'd watched it long ago but mostly forgotten the details, except for a few bits here and there: the scenes of polo played with severed heads; the final, momentous bite; the water-melon eater getting thrown off the train. So as I watched I kept getting these occasional jolts of memory: "Oh yeah, I remember this!"

It's a cracking film, anyway. I don't know about John Huston's intentions exactly, but it seemed to me that it managed to do that most difficult thing - be simultaneously an entertaining story that works on its own merits, while at the same time "saying something" about the real world. It's very cunningly done, serving as a brilliant skewering of the evils, folly and hubris of colonialism, while never once allowing the viewer to dislike Peachey and Danny or want them to fail. Huston never lets the audience off the hook by allowing us to feel all warm and fuzzy about how enlightened we are nowadays. Instead he sweeps us along in the fun of it all, showing us not why colonialism was wrong, but why for so many people it felt so right. (This is similar to what Scorsese did so masterfully in Goodfellas and particularly The Wolf of Wall Street.) That's a hundred times more profound, useful and interesting than the typical approach of a weak storyteller, which is to beat the audience over the head with what he or she wants to SAY.

In a strange way, though, The Man Who Would Be King also feels like the greatest D&D film that never was. (No, don't worry, I'm not about to draw a link between D&D and colonialism here - although I daresay one could if one was so inclined.) Peachey and Danny begin as rogues, not much better than vagabonds. They're also the kind of cipher typically encountered in a 1st level PC: their goals in life are to get rich and powerful, and ultimately to become kings. And that's it. What's interesting about them is what happens now, not their back-story.

From there, they progress through trials and tribulations up the ladder from roving robbers to doughty warriors, to military heroes, chieftains, kings and even higher - mapping the progress from B and E to CM and finally I. They do the kinds of things D&D PCs do: pretending to be insane, charging into battle without a thought for tactics, robbing ancient tombs, slaughtering mooks. As they go they develop depth and character, becoming fleshed out into real, living people as opposed to a set of stats on a piece of paper with "Peachey, Level 1 Fighting-Man" written on the top. They travel to strange, wild lands full of ancient gods and temples. And ultimately they make their mark on the world - in a sense - before disappearing into ignominy.

I also can't help but feel that the film must have affected me when I saw it as a kid, because there are elements of it that seem very Yoon-Suin-ish to me: the sense of variety, the general feeling of chaos and dispersal, the vistas of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush, the strange priests and holy men chanting under their statues of weird Gods. Maybe I need to revise that Appendix N.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

There is Therefore a Strange Land: Concept and the Fence Generator

The idea of There is Therefore a Strange Land is, partially, to formalise some of the procedures I've been using for a long time for games which revolve around city-based intrigue. (See previous posts here and here.) While the setting assumes dungeon exploration and derring-do in a fantastical otherspace (the 'Strange Land' of the title), it also assumes an 18th Century real world British city full of investigators, antiquarians, nobles, fences, robbers, assassins, smugglers, scholars and magicians who - directly or indirectly - interact with it. When the PCs return from the Strange Land bearing loot, they will want to find scholars to tell them what it is, fences to sell it on, or collectors to buy it. They will want to avoid the unwanted attentions of thieves and rival investigators. They will come to the attention of powerful forces who may want portals to the Strange Land kept hidden, or who want their expertise. They will inevitably become caught up in webs of social intrigue as a result.

So the book will provide a means for generating these social webs and ideas for operating them. This is the kind of thing I am working on - the fence - which is one archetype who the PCs will come into contact with.

Grossly fat
Pompous and pretentious
Consults a dice or pack of cards when deciding on the price.
Skeletally thin
Lascivious and suggestive
Is French, German, Spanish, Italian, etc., with contacts abroad.
Strikingly handsome or beautiful
Blunt and dismissive
Is accompanied by a monkey, parrot etc. who he/she makes a big play of asking for appraisals.
Goitred and deformed
Boorishly talkative
Is blind and appraises items through touch/smell.
Decrepit and old
Quiet and reserved
Is possessed by a demon (of a randomly determined type): has the untrustworthy, powerful and miserly traits.
Wiry and sinuous
Hateful and suspicious
Has a peg leg and keeps money in the peg.
Muscular and powerful
Flies into impotent rages
Is an “exotic” from Africa, India or the Americas.
Missing an eye, ear, nose or tongue
Friendly and welcoming
Has a strange predilection which can convince him to lower or waive fees.
Youthful and fresh-faced
Nervous and constantly sweating
Communicates only by whispering to an interlocutor.
Red-nosed and consumptive
Shifty, never making eye contact
Gives discounts for those who can beat him/her in an arm wrestling match, chess game, drinking bout, etc.
Warty and ugly
Aggressive and confrontational
Has a boil which constantly oozes pus.
A small person
Painfully shy
Only communicates from behind a curtain - keeps true identity secret.

A fence has one specialism. Generally a fence is happy to make an introduction to another fence (from among his contacts or allies) for a fee or a favour (typically doing something to harm the interests of a rival).

An untrustworthy fence has a 1 in 6 chance of passing information about a client on to robbers (from among his contacts or allies), with the aim of getting a cut of the takings from a robbery.

A powerful fence has twice the ordinary level of resources.

A weak fence has half the ordinary level of resources.

A foolish fence gives +d6x10% to all prices. A miserly fence takes +d6x10% from all prices.

A connected fence knows a royal or noble.

A fence has TT: A, and a slush fund of 2,000 guineas. He or she also has d6+5 guards or retainers (1st level fighting-men) and access to a pool of as many hirelings as he or she can afford.

Contacts, allies, and rivals
A fence knows d3 collectors for his specialism. He also has d3+3 other contacts (determine using table below). One is a rival and one is an ally.

Minor investigators
Assassin, brothel madam, pub landlord
Major investigator

This type of thing is still a work in progress, but you can see what I am aiming for. The DM creates a limited social network during campaign setup, which to a certain extent generates itself - as contacts have contacts, allies and rivals, who can (if desired) be further detailed and given their own contacts, allies and rivals, allowing the network to expand. This can also be done on an ad hoc basis during play. The PCs may know a fence who specialises in weapons, but they have brought some weird coins back with them through their portal. Their fence introduces them to a contact, a fence specialising in coins, who previously was just a single phrase jotted down, but who can now be fleshed out and given his own set of contacts, allies and rivals. This new fence may have a rival, and agrees to take on the coins and sell them if the PCs agree to spy on that rival. And so on.